My Breath in Brackets: Beckett and Epistemologies of Creative Writing

  • Camelia Elias (Foredragsholder)

    Aktivitet: Tale eller præsentationForedrag og mundtlige bidrag


    In one of his numerous essays, writings, and critificitional remarks on Beckett, Raymond Federman has this to say on being asked to link the question of readability and unreadability to the existential aspect of avant-garde writing: "Imagine then how lost, how confused, how desperate some unprepared readers must feel when reading a text where nothing happens twice, as in some of Samuel Beckett's novels or plays, or where the language moves in a nonsensical direction and therefore means-not". Even without any knowledge of Beckett, the reader of this paragraph, presupposing that the reader is an informed reader who appreciates language-games, is bound to be out of breath by the time she reaches to the idea that some texts "mean-not." For what does it mean to say that a text "means-not?" That it is devoid of signification? That it is non-sensical, or that it has no direction, temporal or spatial? What interests me in this gap that is created between the experience of reading a text which resists us at the level of signification and the context in which such a text leaves us breathless is its connection to how epistemological relevance of various notions of creative writing as a practice in the context of inquiry, of attribution, of assessment, and so on is established.

    Authors such as Beckett are notorious for their minimal take on how to assess readability against the background of inquiry. Various contexts for understanding a text are thus played against each other to the point that a reader is forced to ask herself questions pertaining to what exactly she attributes to the text which, insofar as it is deemed unreadable, resisting interpretation, thus demands the reader's contribution. It is my contention that when reading Beckett both, the reader's contribution and attribution consist of a phatic relation often manifested or expressed through interjections and exclamations. "Ahhhh, what does he mean, this Beckett?" must thus be the first reaction formulated as a question posed as to the significance of the text. This question is often also fraught with frustration and deployed in an instant of breath. A long, rather than deep, breath.

    Given Beckett's liminal writing, indeed nothing ever seems to be repeated twice, or to happen twice. A Beckett text literally seems to take the Heraclitean injunction to its core: if we do step twice into the same river it is the river of our range of flowing breath that we step into. A paradox is experienced when one observes that in spite of reading sparse and economical language, one is exhausted. In Beckett, one climbs the Everest of writing as an event, rather than a heap of words, put there to stumble on. The thinner the air gets, the heavier the breath. This paper will look at such notions as language use and games in the context in which the writing that is produced by language, however minimal or embellishing, is bracketed by a sense of breathing and a sense of excitement experienced in a physical, rather than merely conceptual way.

    My point of departure will be in the collection, First Love and Other Shorts, in which Beckett explores the relation between breath, air, and smell, as means of suggesting that writing takes the form of an epistemic creative act at the point when breath imposes a state of crisis which locks both the writer and consequently the reader into the language of the text. The ultimate question, here, which is intended to link writing to epistemologies of creativity is this one: what do we learn from breathing with Beckett, and can such an act be used formally in the formulation of axioms of epistemologies of creative writing?

    Periode9 jun. 2010
    BegivenhedstitelNAES-FINSSE 2010: English in the North
    ArrangørUniversity of Oulu
    PlaceringOulu, FinlandVis på kort